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Jackson County wants a share of COVID-19 relief money

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Jackson County officials say Gov. Kate Brown is not distributing federal COVID-19 aid to smaller cities and rural counties — even though the Portland area received hundreds of millions of dollars in help.

Jackson County is racking up expenses dealing with the crisis and seeing revenue plummet as residents and businesses follow the governor’s Stay Home, Save Lives order.

“The cities, counties, businesses and people in Oregon have done an amazing job of doing what they have been asked to do in order to meet the statewide guidelines put in place by Gov. Kate Brown,” Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts said in a press release issued by the county Friday. “Jackson County has been doing our part on our own dime with the anticipation that the first wave of the Coronavirus Relief Fund CARES Act, Title V funding would be reallocated to local governments in our county as intended by Congress.”

Jackson County officials said the U.S. Treasury released more than $1.6 billion to the state of Oregon for local relief efforts related to COVID-19.

Based on their populations, the city of Portland, as well as Multnomah and Washington counties, received hundreds of millions of dollars directly from the feds, while Brown was tasked with distributing the remaining funds to smaller cities and counties in Oregon, Jackson County officials said.

In a recent conference call that included the Jackson County commissioners and the governor, it became apparent that the funds were not being distributed, leaving every city and county besides the large metro areas without help from this first wave of relief funding, Jackson County officials said in the press release.

“The city of Portland, Multnomah County and Washington County received their money, and we should be receiving some as well,” Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said in the press release. “At a recent Zoom meeting I asked Gov. Brown directly if she intended to distribute the rest of the funds to local governments, including Jackson County. Even though she acknowledged the desperate need for the funding, she expressed no intention to provide it.”

Jackson County officials said the county is experiencing large losses in revenue.

The county expects to lose more than $1.6 million through June from shared gas tax revenue that funds road maintenance and construction in the county. People are driving far less during the pandemic.

The county parks system, which operates on user fees, expects to lose $190,000 in revenue per month from March through May, and $150,000 per month from June through September.

After the parks system shut down March 23, some county parks facilities reopened Friday, with more to follow May 15. It’s not clear when all park facilities will reopen, especially campgrounds.

The governor has banned camping at campgrounds, and that rule remains in effect for now.

With a drop-off in building permits and land use applications, Jackson County Development Services is losing an estimated $300,000 every month, officials said.

The Jackson County Fairgrounds and The Expo have lost almost $800,000 due to canceled events.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has monthly revenue losses of about $116,000 from fewer traffic fines, impounded vehicles and processing of concealed handgun licenses.

Immunizations by Jackson County Public Health are down, cutting revenue by $15,000 per month, and Animal Services is down $20,000 per month from fewer pet adoptions and donations.

Jackson County Community Justice is losing $27,000 per month from reduced fees brought in from federal prisoners using beds, transitional housing, work release programs, supervision, home detention and more.

As revenues plummet, the county is taking on more expenses.

County officials said labor costs directly related to the COVID-19 response are expected to be well over $1,475,000.

The county’s Information Technology Department is taking a $45,000 hit from having to provide more equipment for the Emergency Operations Center set up at The Expo and to support physical distancing through telework, telecare and virtual meetings.

Jackson County commissioners said they are working with state and federal legislators to ensure equity for rural and smaller cities if there is future funding.

But they’re also urging the governor “to allocate the current funding more appropriately,” the press release said.

“This assistance was partially intended for local governments. It is not acceptable that a few chosen metropolitan jurisdictions receive funding while rural areas are left to fend for themselves. Our citizens deserve better,” Commissioner Bob Strosser said in the release. “Local government has and will continue to incur costs in our response to the coronavirus and desperately needs this funding to effectively respond and recover going forward.”

Brown said in a press release last week that she is fighting U.S. Treasury Department restrictions on how states can use funds from the federal CARES Act.

She wants to be able to use the money to fund state revenue shortfalls.

The state, like Jackson County, is incurring added expenses at a time when revenue is nosediving.

“It is a blatant disregard of the challenges states are facing and the reality of the economy for the U.S. Treasury to prohibit the use of CARES Act funds for state revenue shortfalls,” Brown said last week. “Without this flexibility, cuts to vital state services during this public health crisis will result.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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Gov. Kate Brown